March 28: Pioneering Healthy Aquaculture in Long Island Sound

In 1928, the U.S. Bureau of Commercial Fisheries assigned Dr. H. F. Prytherch to study oysters off the coast of Milford, Connecticut. Milford was both centrally located along the Long Island coast, as well as home to some of the most productive commercial shellfish beds in the area.

In 1931, Dr. Victor Loosanoff arrived to take over for Prytherch, and Congress approved $65,000 for a permanent laboratory on the site. Loosanoff not only conducted experiments but also used his knowledge of oysters to assist local fishermen in maximizing their catches through sustainable practices.

Studying oyster farming on the roughly forty-seven thousand acres of sea beds the state leased to fishermen required being on the water almost every day. Consequently, in 1949, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved funds for the construction of a state-of-the-are research vessel. Authorities launched the forty-seven-foot R/V Shang Wheeler (named after the general manager of the Connecticut Oyster Farm Company) at the West Haven Shipyard on March 28, 1951. It served the state, and the nation, until 2001, helping ensure the quality of oysters along the entire Atlantic seaboard.

Click on the images below to view a slideshow of photographs from the early days of the Milford Laboratory:

The Milford Laboratory remains a vitally important site for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with nearly two dozen permanent staff members.  According to NOAA’s website for the Milford Laboratory:

“…[The] Milford Laboratory continues to conduct state of the art science today that 1) informs management for the sustainable expansion of aquaculture, 2) supports the shellfish aquaculture industry and advances new technologies, and 3) maintains the Laboratory’s standing as a world leader in aquaculture science.”

Their ongoing quest to promote healthy aquaculture in Long Island Sound took a giant step forward on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Milford Lab History,” NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center website

The Milford Laboratory: Oysters, Clams, Scallops, and Fish, TooWrack Lines, Spring/Summer 2008 (PDF file)